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Five-Year Blogaversary

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on August 31, 2010

This month marked the fifth anniversary of when I began blogging–August 2005. I first started blogging at Mankind Minus One, a group blog set up by some of my friends from high school. Although that site no longer exists, you can visit Mankind Minus One using the Wayback Machine, by typing <http://mankindminusone.com&gt; (without the brackets) into the Internet Archive, or see here. Technically, my first post on that site was a meandering piece introducing myself, written on August 24. 2005, which can be seen if you scroll to the bottom here. My first real post was a short article about the anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, on August 25, 2005 (exactly five years ago last Wednesday). After Mankind Minus One disbanded, I moved my posts here, to Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem, in January 2007, and began blogging on my own. Although I have rarely kept to my intended schedule of posting at least once per week, I have greatly enjoyed having a place to share my opinions and analysis with the world. I will now briefly look back on some of the highlights of my blogging career.

Tyler Cowen once wrote (I can’t find a link)  that good blogs have recurring features, like a regular “cast of characters”. Although I haven’t been anywhere near as prolific a blogger as Tyler, I have tried to follow his advice in this respect. My recurring features include the not-quite-weekly “Remark of the Week” series, longish posts of assorted links called “Festival of Links”, and the occasional “No Hiding Place”, wherein I highlight the misfortunes of corrupt politicians and other public figures. If you see an example of the creative use of technology in a developing country, be sure to share it with me in an email or comment so I can blog about it in my (so far abortive) continuing series called “Lasers in the Jungle Watch“.

An entry from early in my blogging career of which I am particularly proud is my post about George W. Bush nominating Ben Bernanke to replace then-Fed chairman Alan Greenspan (see also here). Although at the time Mankind Minus One did not have a huge readership, I was one of the first on the blogosphere to post this story, and perhaps the first to include the commentary that the nomination of Bernanke carried none of the stench of Bush’s (eventually withdrawn) nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. For this timeliness, my post was cited by the (now apparently defunct) BlogPulse Newswire, a metablog that highlighted important topics and breaking stories discussed on other blogs.

I am also still proud of my two entries (written about a year into my solo blogging career) contrasting the politics and rhetoric of two prominent economists, Paul Krugman and Herbert Gintis (see here and here). Although the conventional wisdom would hold that Gintis is farther to the left than Krugman, I sided with Gintis after he wrote a negative review of Krugman’s book, The Conscience of a Liberal. In that review, Gintis critiqued Krguman’s advocacy of extreme partisanship, writing, “This book epitomizes what is wrong with American liberalism.” While I admire Krugman’s contributions to the theories of international trade and economic geography, when opining on political matters, Krugman is just as shrill and vapid as the right-wing talking heads–like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck–that he so much despises. Gintis, on the other hand, has a deep and abiding conviction that we must study social problems scientifically–from many angles, approaches, and viewpoints–in order to glean truths that will help us to ameliorate or solve those problems. My trend of attacking Paul Krugman has continued more recently, in my post defending Congressman Paul Ryan from Krugman’s (and Andrew Sullivan’s) charges of being a “fraud”. (And lest my Obamaphile friends forget, Krugman was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, he maintains that Hillary lost due to sexism and media conspiracy, and he remains, in many ways, an opponent of President Obama, albeit from the left.)

Speaking of Glenn Beck, by far the most viewed post in the entirety of my solo blogging career is the one in which I discuss William Shatner’s political views, as revealed in an interview with Beck on Headline News (back when Beck worked for CNN). I was fortunate enough to watch a re-broadcast of that interview while staying in a hotel room in DC a little more than two years ago. Shatner, the Emmy-award-winning actor who portrayed the protagonists of Boston Legal and the original Star Trek, holds a set of nuanced but unusual political opinions, and while Beck sometimes tried to steer the interview towards his personal talking points, their exchanges were unique and revealing. I found an online transcript of the interview, and filed it away for a few months until I had time to blog about it. Fortunately for me, when I finally blogged about that interview, Shatner’s autobiography Up Till Now had recently been released, and Beck was moving his self-titled show to the Fox News Channel. Even more fortunately, the stars of Shatner and Beck have only risen since then, as Shatner’s autobiography was a best-seller and Beck’s TV program has gained in viewership. Just this past Saturday, a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in DC hosted by Beck (along with Sarah Palin) attracted tens (or perhaps hundreds) of thousands of participants. Perhaps these developments account for the fact that my post on William Shatner’s politics is the most viewed post on Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem, by an order of magnitude. Another possibility is that many people are interested in finding out what William Shatner’s political views are, and there are few other sites on the Internet that clearly and directly discuss Shatner’s political opinions. With this in mind, my secret plan to attract more traffic to this blog in the future is to……blog more about William Shatner! Shatner’s popularity might even increase further, as he will return to network TV this fall with the show $#*! My Dad Says, which is in fact a television show based on a Twitter feed–a clear sign of the times. So expect–and be prepared for–more posts about the one and only William Shatner.

I will close with a few announcements.

First, if you like what you see, please leave a comment and introduce yourself. If you are one of my friends who reads my blog posts as “Notes” automatically imported into Facebook, please take some time to visit my main blog site, chicagoathensjerusalem.com, and post comments there. If you find it easier just to comment on the Facebook Note, I will of course read those comments as well, but the main site could use a few more (non-spam) commenters.

Second, I would like to address the requests I have received from my friends on Tumblr to use that site more often. Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem has served me well, and I will if anything devote more time to it, not less. I will continue to post on my Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem Tumblr occasionally, especially for short items that don’t require or deserve a full blog post. I may in fact post there with a slightly greater frequency, as blogging here and posting items to Tumblr may be complements not substitutes, to put it in economic parlance. Furthermore, an RSS feed of my Tumblr posts will remain visible on the sidebar of this site, an idea I got from fellow WordPress.com blogger Robert Talbert–a nice guy with many interesting things to say over at his blog Casting Out Nines.

Finally, while I do not wish to issue any corrections or retractions for my first five years of blogging, I do wish to sincerely apologize to economist and journalist Tim Harford for repeatedly misspelling his surname.

Thanks for reading! Here’s to five more years!

Posted in Announcements, Personal | 1 Comment »

Paul Ryan is not a fraud

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on August 9, 2010

Paul Ryan is a Republican United States Congressman representing Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district. Over the past two years, he has become a leading voice among the Republicans on the subject of fiscal policy (government taxation and spending). Yesterday, superblogger Andrew Sullivan echoed economist Paul Krugman by accusing Ryan of being a fraud, writing:

I have to say that Paul Krugman made a very strong case that the young GOPer is still drinking supply-side Kool-Aid.

…I remain pretty much persuaded by Krugman’s broad critique, however. Cutting taxes at this point in American history, in the face of this much debt, strikes me as loony.

From my vantage point, it is Sullivan who is drinking Krugman’s hyper-partisan left-wing Kool-Aid. I understand that Sullivan is angry about Republicans who propose tax cuts without recognizing the need for substantial spending cuts and tax increases to put America’s fiscal house in order (and on that account I agree with him). But that’s not what Ryan is doing. Ryan developed his plan for across-the-board reductions in government spending as a way to ease the US debt burden without having to employ extremely high tax rates. Ryan further contends that we can climb out from under the debt through economic growth if we stimulate the economy with carefully-targeted tax cuts. There is a legitimate debate to be had about whether we could bolster economic growth and help claw our way out of the current recession with tax cuts, just as there is a continuing debate about the need for additional stimulus in the form of increased government expenditures (some in the form of aid to the states, which Congress is considering this week). While I am probably closer to Sullivan than to Ryan on the subject of whether or not we need tax cuts right now, it inefficient, ignorant, and just plain rude to label anyone who favors tax cuts as “loony”–we are, after all, still reeling from the effects of one of the largest recessions in history. It may be silly to think that we can tax-cut our way out of a recession, but from the standpoint of economic theory it’s no sillier than thinking we can government-spend our way out of a recession, which has been the policy of the Obama Administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress for the past two years.

Furthermore, Paul Krugman’s attacks on Ryan are at least somewhat spurious. Krugman alleges that Ryan was being disingenuous by having the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) only score the part of Ryan’s “Roadmap” involving spending cuts, while ignoring Ryan’s proposed tax cuts, which would understandably eat away at much of the savings that Ryan’s spending reductions would create. The only problem with this line of attack is that the CBO doesn’t, as part of its operations, score tax cuts. As Megan McArdle, the business and economics editor for the Atlantic, points out in an excellent blog post entitled “Krugman is Wrong on Ryan and the CBO”, scoring tax cuts is the responsibility of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). And Ryan did ask the JCT to score his tax cut proposals, although the JCT turned him down–possibly due to its heavy workload scoring the tax provisions of healthcare reform.

As an aside, I should say that I agree with a few of Krugman’s criticisms of Ryan’s plan, notably that Ryan fails to specify precisely what programs he would cut to achieve some of his spending reductions, and that other spending reductions rely on cuts in politically-sensitive Medicare, which are unlikely to ever be enacted.

However, Krugman writes:

The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future.

This, of course, is just partisan vitriol. Ryan’s plan makes several useful contributions to the debate, even if it is not the most realistic or workable plan that has ever been proposed. Paul Ryan may not be the fiscal prophet that some on the right wish him to be, but he certainly doesn’t fit Paul Krugman’s caricature of a scammer, charlatan, or “flimflam man”.

Posted in Economics, Politics | 1 Comment »

Remark of the Week: Theory and Policy Edition

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on July 18, 2010

In a week relatively devoid of memorable quips (post a counterexample in the comments if you think I’m wrong), this week’s Remark of the Week goes to George Loewenstein and Peter Ubel, writing in the New York Times:

As policymakers use it to devise programs, it’s becoming clear that behavioral economics is being asked to solve problems it wasn’t meant to address. Indeed, it seems in some cases that behavioral economics is being used as a political expedient, allowing policymakers to avoid painful but more effective solutions rooted in traditional economics.

The op-ed is filled with interesting (if perhaps overstated) examples, so read the whole thing.

Here is Tyler Cowen on Loewenstein and Ubel. Tyler writes,

Often there is no nudge-based free lunch and we need a straightforward relative price shift

Here is Erik Voeten from The Monkey Cage on Loewenstein and Ubel. Erik elaborates,

Ultimately, changing relative prices is much more likely to meaningfully impact behavior deemed socially undesirable. So, making healthier foods cheaper is much more important than labeling unhealthy food.

Loewenstein and Ubel’s op-ed is mostly aimed at warning people that behavioral solutions are no panacea.…Yet, it strikes me that if they are right, their argument is really quite damning for the behavioral economics revolution. Essentially, they assert that traditional economic analysis has ultimately much more relevance for the analysis of major social problems and for finding solutions to them. Behavioral economics can complement this but cannot be a viable alternative. Within political science and other social sciences the insights of behavioral economics are sometimes interpreted as undermining the very foundations of classical economic analysis and warranting an entirely different approach to social problems. At the very least, the op-ed is a useful reminder that careful scrutiny of effect sizes matters greatly.

Although Loewenstein and Ubel may not have intended it as such, their op-ed provides even more evidence that mainstream economics offers useful and robust solutions to many pressing policy issues, and that challengers such as behavioral economics serve up “corrections” to the mainstream models that are limited in practical use. While there are some insights to be gathered from behavioral economics (especially when combined with experimental methods, such as John List‘s tests of prospect theory), as a movement it is unlikely to do much to revolutionize economics because it does not posit critiques of mainstream methods that are both novel and useful, especially concerning policy applications.

Posted in Economics, Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Remark of the Week: Theory and Policy Edition

Remark of the Week: Opera Edition

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on July 4, 2010

This week’s Remark of the Week comes from John von Rhein, the classical music critic for the Chicago Tribune, reviewing a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert of Wagner highlights at the Ravinia summer music festival:

One’s pleasure in hearing one of the world’s great Wagnerian “pit” bands playing this glorious music from center stage, along with the full-throated singing of the soloists, was mingled with dismay at the smallish audience. Wagner remains a tough sell on the North Shore [of Chicago]. The “Ringheads” in attendance cheered lustily, as if to compensate for the acres of empty seats.

I can offer only speculation as to why “Wager remains a tough sell” for the people of the northern suburbs of Chicago. That speculation is twofold: 1) The North Shore of Chicago is known for its substantially above-average prevalence of Jews, as well as high levels of social and political support for tolerance and diversity among the general population (although there are some areas, such as ultra-wealthy Kenilworth, that reliably vote Republican). 2) The music of Richard Wagner is still tainted by its associated with Nazi Germany–where it was highly popular with Hitler and other Nazi leaders–as well as the perceived anti-Semitism of Wagner himself (note the controversy caused by Daniel Barenboim’s performance of Wagner in Israel). Putting together 1) and 2) leads me to conjecture that the North Shore has a higher-than-average number of people who consider Wagner distasteful for political reasons, leading to a below-average popularity of Wagner’s music among the population in that area.

Also, I didn’t know that fans of Wagner’s Ring Cycle had a special name (“Ringheads”), although a quick Google search demonstrates at least two different instances of using “Ringheads” to denote Wagner fanatics.

As always, thank you for reading my random musings on subjects like the relative popularity of Wagnerian opera. For my friends, family, and other American readers, Happy July 4th! Here’s to an excellent rest of 2010!

Posted in Arts and literature, Music, Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Remark of the Week: Opera Edition

Not from The Onion

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on June 28, 2010

…but from the BBC, this past Friday:

‘Psychic’ octopus predicts Germany victory over England

Here’s more:

When consulted, Paul the octopus chose a mussel from a jar with the German flag on it ahead of one in a similar jar bearing the cross of St George.

The two-year-old cephalopod has a record of predicting past German results in this manner, his owners say.

Paul has so far correctly predicted all of Germany’s results in South Africa.

By the way, the octopus was right again, as Germany beat England 4-1 yesterday.

Posted in Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Not from The Onion

Festival of Links

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on June 6, 2010

1. Matt Ridley’s new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, is out. A positive review from The Economist is here. Ridley has written a Wall Street Journal op-ed explaining the book here. Ridley’s blog is here.

2. An extremely in-depth article about Lady Gaga, for those interested in such things.

3. Facebook’s new privacy controls explained. See also here.

4. Ranking diseases by prestige (hat tip to Tyler Cowen).

5. Homer Simpson named greatest TV character by Entertainment Weekly.

6. Allegations–very disturbing if true–about the Turkish government persecuting political opponents, from Turkish economist Dani Rodrik. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of his claims, but Rodrik is a widely-respected scholar, a highly-regarded teacher, and an excellent writer, and I have no reason to doubt him.

7. Amidst news that Apple has exceeded Microsoft in market capitalization, Microsoft is reorganizing its Entertainment & Devices division. This shakeup also includes the departure of J Allard and Robbie Bach, two prominent and influential Microsoft executives. Here are two good opinion pieces commenting on these developments, one from InfoWorld, and one from ArsTechnica.

8. A new profile of Gary Becker, who was awarded the University of Chicago Alumni Medal yesterday. Becker previously received the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1992 and the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. Becker’s blog (joint with Judge Richard Posner) is here.

9. In a move that heralds the future of the mobile telecoms industry, AT&T announced that new customers will no longer be able to purchase unlimited mobile data plans. Dan Indiviglio and Megan McArdle concur with AT&T estimates that most smartphone users would end up paying less under the new plans. Slashdot has a roundup of various other reactions to the change. The Unofficial Apple Weblog hosted a Q&A with an AT&T rep on how this will affect iPhone and iPad users.

10. The true history of the original Order of Assassins (hat tip to Alex Tabarrok, who has a good article in the Wall Street Journal about the portrayal of capitalism in American movies and TV, including in The Wire).

Posted in Festival of Links | Comments Off on Festival of Links

The finale of LOST

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on May 27, 2010

LOST, the television show that became a cultural phenomenon–watched at its peak by over 20 million viewers in the United States alone–concluded with its final episode this past Sunday. As I will now discuss that episode, and the sixth season more generally, this post contains MAJOR SPOILERS. Follow along after the jump…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arts and literature | Comments Off on The finale of LOST

Remarks of the week

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on April 11, 2010

While both of these stories have already seen some coverage on more popular blogs (most notably on my favorite blog Marginal Revolution), they both express important points about social change.

1. The aging of humanity, from NewScientist:

In 19 countries, from Singapore to Iceland, people have a life expectancy of about 80 years. Of all the people in human history who ever reached the age of 65, half are alive now. Meanwhile, women around the world have half as many children as their mothers. And if Japan is the model, their daughters may have half as many as they do.

2. Avoiding nostalgia for a mythical age of lost liberty, essay by David Boaz at Reason.com:

If you had to choose, would you rather live in a country with a department of labor and even an income tax or a Dred Scott decision and a Fugitive Slave Act?

Boaz’s exhortation to remember the freedom-crushing injustices of the past–like slavery–is even more relevant in light of the controversy over Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) declaring April to be “Confederate History Month”, without making any reference to slavery.

As they say, “Demography is destiny”, and “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

To cite my sources, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution linked to story 1 here and to story 2 here.

Posted in Politics, Random Thoughts, Science | Comments Off on Remarks of the week

The deed is done

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on March 23, 2010

After its passage by the House of Representatives Sunday night, President Obama signed the health care bill into law earlier today, declaring,

We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.

Meanwhile, fourteen states have filed suit in federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the new law, and the Republican National Committee has already raised over $1 million in donations by vowing to unseat congressional Democrats who voted for the bill, and to regain control of the House in the November elections.

Reuters has a good fact sheet on the provisions of the health care bill. Even more interesting are the predictions made by some of the leading lights of the economics blogosphere.

Bryan Caplan predicts that the health reform package will essentially not work, as families and firms game the system.

In contrast, Tyler Cowen predicts that the law, while working, will lead to a series of unintended consequences.

Megan McArdle offers eight predictions (more here) about how some of the putative goals of the new law will not be met.

Last but not least, Greg Mankiw muses on the trade-offs inherent in the health care legislation, and concludes,

My judgment is that this health bill adds significantly to our long-term fiscal problems.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Comments Off on The deed is done

Not from The Onion

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on March 14, 2010

…but from the Wall Street Journal:

Bank Sorry for Taking Parrot

[Insert your favorite parrot joke here.]

Fortunately, the parrot was not harmed and has been reunited with its owner.

Posted in Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Not from The Onion

Remark of the week

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on February 28, 2010

This week’s “Remark of the week” is for fans of ABC’s hit TV show Lost. As E! Online’s Kristin Dos Santos reports, last night the cast and crew of Lost answered many fan questions at the William S. Paley Television Festival in Los Angeles. Lost co-creator and executive producer Damon Lindelof responded to a question about a possible Lost-themed ride at Disney World. Lindelof said that to create such a ride it would be unnecessary to build a replica of the show’s mysterious Island:

Just put people in a black room, spin them around and punch them in the face and tell them “You just had the Lost experience.”

Posted in Arts and literature, Random Thoughts | 3 Comments »

Opportunity costs

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on January 26, 2010

From Reuters:

Bill Gates worries climate money robs health aid

Discussing the money pledged at the Copenhagen climate change summit last month, Gates wrote,

“I am concerned that some of this money will come from reducing other categories of foreign aid, especially health…If just 1 percent of the $100 billion goal came from vaccine funding, then 700,000 more children could die from preventable diseases.”

Also,

Taking the focus away from health aid could be bad for the environment in the long run, said Gates, “because improvements in health, including voluntary family planning, lead people to have smaller families, which in turn reduces the strain on the environment.”

Another discussion of Gates’ letter can be found here.

For more information about the trade-offs inherent in trying to solve global problems, read How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place, edited by Bjorn Lomborg.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Comments Off on Opportunity costs

Anecdote of the week

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on January 24, 2010

Earlier this month, economist Steven Horwitz and his wife went shopping for new cell phones. Here is an amusing (to me, at least) anecdote taken from Horwitz’s blog post about the cell-phone-buying experience:

We were talking with the salesman (from whom we have bought every cellphone we’ve ever owned) about the pricing of Blackberrys and he pointed out that Jody’s Storm was half the price of my Tour, even though the Storm is the fancier model with a touch screen and the whole iPhone feel to it.  He said “it might seem strange that the newer, fancier phone is cheaper” but before he could say anything, I quickly said “well I’m sure the Tour is in demand from business users who don’t want to learn the touch screen and want the latest of the more ‘traditional’ BB, while the Storm is for people like Jody who might get an iPhone or Droid instead.”  He said “yup.”

I quickly replied:  “it’s just like staying over a Saturday night for plane tickets – segmenting your market by price elasticity.”  He gave me that sad, shake of the head that economists often get from people when we go geek.

Posted in Economics, Random Thoughts | 1 Comment »

Remark of last week

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on December 20, 2009

Although I’m somewhat late in posting this, here is an excellent passage from Megan McArdle, pondering the future of the Democratic Party:

I was talking to a libertarian friend yesterday who is a professor in the midwest, and we were marvelling at just how delusional many Obama voters seem to have been about what he was going to accomplish.  Don’t get me wrong–I certainly don’t approve of everything Obama has done.  But the guy got elected to be president of the United States, not Prime Minister of Sweden.  Anyone who seriously entertained the notion that the procedural obstacles to enacting legislation in the United States would suddenly fall away–along with the essentially center-right politics of the American voter–is probably not mature enough to be driving.

I should note that McArdle often wrote approvingly of Barack Obama during the 2008 election. As someone who was deeply troubled by the fanaticism of many Obama supporters (especially here in Chicago) and the cult-like belief in “Hope” and “Change”, I should say “I told you so”, but that would be rude. Instead, I will say that I think President Obama is doing about as well as could reasonably have been expected given the problems he inherited from the Bush administration and the constraints of the office. In fact, my opinion of Obama is higher today than on election night last year, because of the many highly competent moderates he appointed or retained in crucial economic and national security posts. But as the passage quoted above illustrates, the problem is that the expectations placed on Obama going into his presidency weren’t reasonable, and the Democrats must now re-acclimate themselves to political reality.

Posted in Politics, Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Remark of last week

Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on October 19, 2009

What do people around the world think of President Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? According to a Wall Street Journal article on the fallout from Obama’s win, this might be a sign of the times:

When David Beckham was named “man of the match” in England’s World Cup qualifying soccer game this week despite playing for just 30 minutes, his coach, Fabio Capello, mocked the honor as being “like Obama getting the Nobel Prize.”

Megan McArdle adds:

Call me crazy, but I think that maybe to earn the Nobel prize, a million dollars, and all the associated prestige, you ought to have made efforts somewhat more heroic than chairing a meeting in which you said that you thought we ought to have fewer nuclear arms–even one in which you said that the US also thought we ought to have fewer nuclear arms.  You should, I don’t know, deliver a deal or something.

For a more measured consideration of this particular issue, here are some arguments against and for Obama deserving the prize, courtesy of The Economist‘s Democracy In America blog.

Well, at least John McCain has no problem with Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize…

Posted in Politics | Comments Off on Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

The Baucus health care bill

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on October 7, 2009

A few weeks ago, Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee,  introduced a wide-ranging proposal to reform the US health care system. Today, the independent Congressional Budget Office released their score of the Baucus bill, as Marc Ambinder reports. The upshot is that the bill will cost $829 billion. That is less than expected, and if implemented, the Baucus plan would actually reduce the federal deficit by $81 billion.

Sounds like a great deal then? Not so fast, says leading macroeconomist Greg Mankiw. Mankiw and Jim Capretta note that the Baucus plan structures subsidies to purchase insurance in such a way as to impose an effective tax on middle-income families. Under the Baucus plan, all individuals without health insurance would be required to purchase health insurance or pay a fine. The subsidies are designed to alleviate the financial strain of this requirement on the poor, but the subsidies phase out as family income increases. This creates a marginal tax on income, which Capretta calculates could reach 30% for families with incomes equal to twice the poverty line. Add that to existing income taxes, and the result is a strong disincentive towards higher income-earning for middle-class workers.

Do the benefits of covering millions of uninsured Americans at a reasonable price outweigh the costs of imposing a large tax burden on middle-income families? Decide for yourself, but let’s hope that the members of the Senate are being so measured in their deliberations.

Posted in Economics, Politics | 1 Comment »

More healthcare tidbits

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on July 27, 2009

1. Greg Mankiw points to a CBO report regarding the impact on the deficit of the healthcare reform bill currently working its way through the House of Representatives.

2. Marc Ambinder reports on Bill Clinton’s criticism of the CBO’s recent healthcare analysis, and on the new US obesity findings.

3. Bryan Caplan explains why health insurance companies don’t, as a rule, cheat–or provide substandard care to–the very ill.

4. Megan McArdle questions the conventional wisdom that adverse selection causes market failure for health insurance.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Comments Off on More healthcare tidbits

Remark of last week

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on June 21, 2009

Last week’s Remark of the Week should have gone to Arnold Kling:

Getting people to reduce their use of medical services is the spinach of health care reform. Expanding insurance coverage is the dessert. The Democrats want to enact dessert now, and worry about spinach later.

Just something to keep in mind as you read or watch coverage of the incipient health care reform bill. Kling’s co-blogger Bryan Caplan adds more here.

Posted in Politics, Random Thoughts | 2 Comments »

Obama and McCain agree

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on May 22, 2009

Earlier today, President Obama signed the Weapons System Acquisition Reforms Act, which overhauls the military procurement process to prevent waste and reduce cost overruns.  As the president acknowledged in his remarks, the individual who most strongly advocated for this new law was his election opponent, Senator John McCain. McCain has worked to reduce waste in military spending for virtually all of his 22-year senatorial career, and he found agreement from Obama when he raised the issue during the 2008 presidential election campaign.

Obama estimates that procurement reform will “save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars”. Calling the reforms “long overdue”, the president argued that outdated and inadequate military spending rules would be replaced without compromising national security.

After signing the bill, Obama traveled to Annapolis, where he delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2009 graduation. Senator McCain was a member of the 30,000-person audience, as his son John Sidney McCain IV (known as “Jack”) was one of the graduates. Jack McCain received a Bachelor’s of Science and a commission as an ensign in the United States Navy, becoming the fourth McCain to graduate from the Naval Academy. Like all of the other graduates, the younger McCain shook hands with the president during the ceremony.

Posted in Politics | Comments Off on Obama and McCain agree

Remark of the Week

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on April 26, 2009

One of Andrew Sullivan‘s readers writes:

The idea that eradicating the drugs will solve the drug problem is the lie at the root of the War on Drugs. Drug addiction is never about the drug, it’s about people coming to grips with the pain of existence.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Posted in Politics, Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Remark of the Week

Remark of the Week

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on February 22, 2009

This week’s Remark of the Week is from Mark Thompson:

By treating any and all social safety nets as irreversible steps on the Road to Serfdom, we [libertarians] allow liberals and progressives to shape those policies in ways that are inefficient, ineffective, and overbroad – even though Adam Smith, Hayek himself, and Friedman each advocated for a form of social safety net, demonstrating that social safety nets can be consistent with libertarianism.

Part of a continuing conversation about the future of libertarianism that includes, among others, Virginia PostrelWill Wilkinson and Ross Douthat.

Posted in Politics, Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Remark of the Week

The former governor of Illinois

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on February 21, 2009

At the end of last month, Rod Blagojevich, then the governor of the US State of Illinois, was removed from office by the Illinois State Senate. Earlier in January, Blagojevich had been impeached by the Illinois House of Representatives following his arrest in December on federal corruption charges.

I have previously criticized Blagojevich, who earned the lowest ever approval ratings of any public official even before his arrest, and I am glad that my home state now has a new governor, Pat Quinn. In addition to his corrupt dealings (which memorably included soliciting bribes from those interested in being named Barack Obama’s replacement in the US Senate), Blagojevich paralyzed the Illinois state government with his fiercely ideological governing style. In particular, he refused to compromise on substantive tax increases or major government service reductions even as the state faced a massive budget crisis and ran out of money to pay for its mass transit system. The situation was made all the more tragicomic because Blagojevich was a Democrat, the Democrats control both houses of the Illinois General Assembly, and the Illinois Republican Party has been too dysfunctional to offer up any real alternatives (Blagojevich was reelected in 2006 by over 1.5 million votes).

Although the vote to remove Blagojevich from office was unanimous, Jonathan Rauch believes that the impeachment and conviction process was flawed and that “too many corners were cut”. Marc Ambinder offers up a rebuttal written by Rich Miller.

I largely take Miller’s side, noting that just because Blagojevich turned Illinois into a national laughingstock doesn’t automatically mean his removal was justified. But the former governor, as Miller notes, played fast-and-loose with the state constitution for years and was only arrested by the FBI after declaring on tape his intention to swap a US Senate seat for money and other political favors. Solicitation to bribery is a serious crime, but it is only the beginning of Blagojevich’s troubles.  The former governor had a history of shady dealings, as his current mess comes after former Blagojevich fundraisers Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine were indicted and convicted of exchanging kickbacks for state business contracts. The federal indictment also lists the former governor’s attempts to bribe the Chicago Tribune into firing editors critical of him, and to extort money (in the form of campaign contributions) from a Chicago children’s hospital. It is for his earlier small abuses of power as well as for his more recent shockingly corrupt schemes that Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.

Now a private citizen, Blagojevich still faces federal criminal charges. The federal prosecutor bringing the charges is Patrick Fitzgerald, a scrupulously honest US Attorney. Fitzgerald, while appointed by Republicans, has notably indicted and earned convictions of George Ryan (Blagojevich’s Republican predecessor as governor), “Scooter” Libby (Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff), and Conrad Black (a British Conservative politician and media tycoon). This record suggests that former governor Blagojevich will face a tough fight to beat the rap once his formal indictment begins later this year.

While it has sometimes been amusing to poke fun at Blagojevich’s pompous personality and to listen to the tape recordings of his brazen (and profanity-laden) criminal plans, it is hard to look back on his earlier years and try to find some small good that he brought to Illinois. The record is decidedly mixed. I am somewhat saddened to admit that I originally supported Blagojevich over his two rivals in the Democratic governor’s primary election of 2002, believing that he would be a moderate like his mentor Bill Clinton and that he would keep his promises to bring honesty and ethics reform to Illinois. Despite his two election victories, the people aren’t stupid (or at least can’t be fooled forever, to paraphrase Lincoln), and Blagojevich’s record-breaking low poll numbers  reflected a profound desire to see him leave the governor’s mansion (which he rarely used, preferring a townhouse in Chicago and making the taxpayers foot the bill for private jet flights between Chicago and Springfield). Unfortunatley, Blagojevich leaves behind a legacy of taking political corruption to new heights–a legacy that has now ensnared Roland Burris, the new occupant of Obama’s former Senate seat. Fortunately, the people of Illinois–a state thrust into the spotlight by the election of its junior Senator to the Presidency and its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games–won’t have old Blago to kick around anymore.

Posted in Law, Politics | 2 Comments »

William Shatner on politics

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on January 17, 2009

In an interview with Glenn Beck on May 16, 2008 the inimitable actor William Shatner made many thoughtful if offbeat remarks about politics.

Early in the interview, Beck asked the former Captain Kirk about the zany obstreperousness of Star Trek fans. Shatner responded, “I mean, it was a fantasy, wasn’t it? It was just a television show.”

When pressed, Shatner assented to holding the belief that “almost every problem we have right now is due to overpopulation”. Shatner said that  “…nature eventually will take care of that problem like they did, like nature does with animals.” He elaborated,

…how do we stop the overpopulation? I guess it’s by education and saying you’ve got to have less children, you can’t have all the children you want anymore. There’s a difference in the world now. Or nature will take care of it.

Shatner ascribes his views on the subject to a reading (40 years ago) of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arts and literature, Politics | 3 Comments »

The Five Presidents

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on January 7, 2009

Like a Doctor Who special, the three living former presidents of the United States reunited to hold a lunch meeting with the current president and the president-elect. George W. Bush hosted President-elect Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter at the White House earlier today.

Obama said he received “advice, good counsel, and fellowship” from this rare gathering of presidents, which culminated in a cool photo-op.

The BBC has the story and video here.

Posted in Politics, Random Thoughts | Comments Off on The Five Presidents